Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Justice simplified

Many of the anti-racists who have demanded an uncompromising response to the allegations of racism against John Terry and Luis Suarez will come to regret getting what they've asked for. This controversy also has implications for people with little interest in football.

I'm not sure we'll ever see all of the evidence related to these incidents, but I'm fairly certain that neither were simply one-way racial slurs. In both cases, we've seen clumsy claims in mitigation against a backdrop of an opaque process. The reputation of professional football, it seems, requires the hearings to be conducted in private while the sentences get handed down in public.

With the facts that we have, it's hard to understand why Liverpool FC are going to such lengths to demonstrate solidarity with Suarez. This may partly be because we don't have all the facts and Liverpool players have some that we don't.

I'm not going to make the case that the sentences that have/will be handed out are harsh or disproportionate. I can't know that. But I'm fairly sure that, in another workplace, this would be done differently. The result may have been more lenient or more harsh, but it's fairly clear that it'd be different.

The contrast with the (admittedly botched) justice that the alleged killers of Stephen Lawrence will receive is a useful comparison here, on the day that the judge started summing up with a stout defence of the fair trail.

Here's my problem with this: High-profile people now appear to have been given a semi-constitutional status. Transactions that they're involved in have to combine an institution-saving opaqueness with the requirement to set an example.

It's more important that justice is seen to be done than that it's actually done. There's a parallel here in the way that it seems to be the settled view of almost everyone - even at the Leveson Enquiry - that someone who puts themselves in the public eye then loses certain privacy privileges.

It seems that justice - in the cases of people in the public eye - seems to be based upon what sentence the public will understand as being appropriate once they've seen a simplified version of events. This applies to footballers and general celebrities. It also applies to politicians, civil servants and other political players. It applies to anyone that newspaper proprietors and editors want it to apply to.

It reflects an increased willingness to pander to the demagogic demands of The Hive Mind. It gives a more mundane expression to some of the observations in Charlie Brooker's very good 'Black Mirror' series (especially the 'National Anthem' episode).

Decisions that affect us all are being made in the same way. Sharon Shoesmith's treatment at the hands of Ed Balls is a notable example. The court of public opinion is expanding its remit and no-one seems to be doing much to counteract this.

With Suarez, Terry and Shoesmith, we got the Dopamine-rush you get from swift justice. Children aren't safer as a result. Allegations of racism are now another disruptive tool that can be gamed wherever a celebrity is involved. 

It's another reason for Chris to conclude that politicians are irrelevant now. Why bother standing for office when unelected people with convening power can decide what decisions you are going to make in advance and then harass you until you make them?

The notion of 'the public interest' seems to have taken on a life of its own. Reversing this won't be easy. But it's possible.

1 comment:

Sion Whellens said...

Not sure though that the Suarez and Terry cases would have been dealt with differently (in essence) in another workplace. The complication is when there are parallel trials being carried out in camera (diciplinary procedure) and in public (open trial, or employment tribunal). Confidentiality is a feature of workplace-based disciplinary procedures, where in essence the boss and his management team are assumed to be competent to 'try' workers and hear preliminary appeals using principles of due and fair process - and then pass judgement. It only comes out in the open if the worker challenges the verdict in a tribunal, which is effectively their last appeal forum.

But you're right that an extra element of mass expiation, mythos and ritual comes into play when it's about prominent figures in the culture - slebs, politicians and footballers, but also bosses themselves. It goes beyond the usual assumption that the ordinary person in the street is too stupid to understand subtle issues, and certainly incompetent to try them unless guided at every step by the professional/priestly castes. We know that 'professionalism' confers on professionals an aura of ethical superiority and competence. After all, they have to do lots of training and then swear to uphold the good as a condition of entry into their trades. There's a problem when people who are not professionals - and to me that includes sportspeople and entertainers - are expected to be 'role models', which seems to imply never making a mistake in public. Any worker can be disciplined for damaging the interests or reputation of their employer, but of course that's different ...